Note taking Strategies
A complete and accurate set of notes aids in content understanding and in exam preparation and performance. Many biology professors generate most of their test questions directly from lecture notes, so to succeed on tests you need to hone your notetaking skills by using the strategies described here.
Note taking strategies discussed in this section are:
Focus on Details
All professors expect you to know details, not just generalized information. This requires that you record terms and definitions, people and contributions, lists, and supporting facts for main concepts. Take word lists from the text with you to class to facilitate notetaking.
Taking good notes requires that you decrease distractions. Sit in the front of the room, where you are less likely to fall asleep or daydream. It is easier to concentrate when sitting toward the front because you are less distracted by the actions of other students. Avoid seats near the door, windows, wall maps, and other distractors.
Completeness and Accuracy
Instructors lecture quickly at times, yet you need a complete and accurate set of notes. To accomplish this, prepare for class by previewing the assigned readings, compare your notes with those of other students, check information in the notes against the textbook, or tape record the lectures and add to the notes later. Be sure to get permission to tape from the instructor.
Organization of Notes
Several notetaking formats are effective for most biology courses. The Cornell and expanded notetaking methods are discussed in more detail in the Note taking section of the General Purpose Learning Strategies main stack.
The Cornell method of a split page with recall and notes columns is a good approach for students who have trouble organizing information as it is given during class.
The expanded notetaking procedure builds on the Cornell format by providing extra blocks or columns for assignments, lecture summaries, added content such as organizational aids and textbook material, questions, and self-testing check-ups.
A combination of Cornell and expanded notetaking can be used to meet specific student needs in a particular course. For example, use the right- and left-hand pages of the notebook as the notetaking template. On the right-hand page is the date, recall column for key words (later to be put on flash cards) or key concepts for quick reference when reviewing, and lecture notes. On the left-hand page is a question column for self-made test questions from the lecture notes on the opposite page and a check column for noting problem areas.
Illustrations and Examples
Pay particular attention to the illustrations and examples discussed during class. Students who do not have time to record illustrations and corresponding notes during class should xerox illustrations from the book and take the copies to class for notetaking. When xeroxing illustrations, leave room to write notes and explanations in the margins.
Review lecture notes within 24 hours of class. Otherwise, you will lose from memory 60% to 70% of what you heard in class.
The easiest way to review within 24 hours of class is to recopy and reorganize notes. Rewrite notes in a notetaking format you prefer; the Cornell method, for example, is usually effective. Rewrite notes by hand or key them into a word processor. Add pertinent information from the book if necessary.
Methods of Review
Short, frequent reviews and end-of-week reviews are effective for most biology courses. The goal of review is to be able to recall information, make connections with existing knowledge, and see relationships among information. Simply memorizing isolated facts will not allow you to reach this goal. Memorizing is temporary - you need to push information from short-term to long-term memory. Experts suggest students spend six to ten hours per week on each science course alone. How best to spend this time?
Efficient methods of review discussed in this section are:
Review at least every other night. By spacing reviews, students force themselves to use the information repeatedly, which increases chances of remembering the material.
Make the Review Active
The more ways you can enter the information into memory, the better your chances of recalling it on exams or during classroom activities. Try combining reading and writing, reading and speaking aloud, writing and listening to tapes, or reading and listening to tapes.
Recopy and Reorganize Lecture Notes
A good way to review new material is to recopy and reorganize lecture notes. Refer to the Note taking section of the General-Purpose Learning Strategies Main Stack for more information.
Review Lecture Notes
Review the Book
Read and review material in the text that relates to the lecture notes. Look at and answer the review questions at the end of each chapter.
Work in Groups
Use a study partner or a study group at least occasionally. Why? For one thing, talking about what you need to learn reinforces learning. In addition, other students may be able to explain things about which you are unclear. Other students may have effective memory strategies or organizational strategies to share.
End-of-week reviews may include a number of activities. Work on flash cards that weren't completed during the week. Make up and answer questions for self-testing. Develop and apply memory and organizational strategies. Read through lecture notes from the past week; then read all notes since the last test.
Good time management practices enhance success in biology courses for a number of reasons. They help students avoid procrastination and panic before tests. They help students become more organized. They give students more free time because time is not wasted, especially the small amounts of time we all let slip by between classes, waiting in line, and waiting for the instructor.
The following time management strategies are discussed in this section:
Semester calendars provide an overview of due dates for papers, tests, reading assignments, and lab assignments. Complete a semester planner as soon as you receive the syllabus.
Weekly / Daily Planner
Take information from the semester calendar and organize it into more manageable parts with due dates for each part.
Daily "To-Do" List
Incorporate readings, "in-progress" work on papers, compilation of information organizers, review of lecture notes, and other tasks.
Use a course organizer to keep track of due dates and grades on various tasks. You will always know where you stand. A sample template is given below.
You may want to customize the organizer for your own purposes. For example, you may want to add columns to record the percent each task contributes to your grade.
The following reading strategies should help students prepare effectively for class, take better notes, and participate meaningfully in class.
Preview each reading assignment in order to gain a general idea of the content before it is covered in class. To survey a chapter of text, read the introduction and summary, look at illustrations and figures, and read the questions at the end of the chapter.
Read for Content
After class, carefully read the material in the text that relates to the lecture.
To stay on track while reading, jot down one word or one phrase as you read each paragraph or section of the text. This allow you to get back on track if interrupted and it helps you to concentrate on the content of the reading. If you are interrupted, just read through your notes quickly to get refocused on the content.
Illustrations and Examples
Pay particular attention to the illustrations and examples given in the text book. Take copies of them to class for notetaking if necessary, leaving room to write notes and explanations in the margins.